Four Generations of Santaphant and Camelclaus
When I was a small child, I remember my mother turning our living room bookcase into a beautiful display of gingerbread and sugar cookies all carefully decorated with many colored icings and sprinkles. As we got older, my sisters and I spent hours each year rolling, cutting, baking and icing a big batch of Mom’s sugar cookies. We had many holiday cookie cutters, including a Christmas tree, Santa Claus and reindeer. Our favorites were a set of red circus cookie cutters that included an elephant, a camel and a donkey. We would get very silly and put elephant and camel heads on Santa bodies. We named these creations Santaphant and Camelclaus. We spent hours laughing and having fun together.
My daughters and their friends continued our cookie tradition creating their own artful and sometimes silly Christmas cookies. We break out the cookie cutters again, in a week or so, when my daughters and I head to the Eastern Shore to bake cookies with my sister, my nieces and their children, six-year old Aiden and three-year-old Lola.
Can’t wait to see what we’ll make this year!
Mom’s Sugar Cookies
Combine dry ingredients
3 cups flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp soda
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup softened butter
1-1/2 cup sugar
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2 eggs beaten
1-1/2 tbsp milk
1-1/2 tsp vanilla
Mix in dry ingredients until well blended.
Divide into 3 parts and add food coloring as you wish.
I usually have red, green and white dough. Chill until firm. Roll out dough and cut into shapes. Bake at 350 for 7 to 8 minutes.
These cookies can be iced with confectioners sugar icing, or sprinkles can be added before baking. Have fun!
As an Indian girl living in England, “biscuits,” as us Brits call them, were one of many delicious treats made in our kitchen. At around six years old, I remember helping my mother and grandmother bake egg-less biscuits from a recipe proudly shared amongst the Indian community. The aroma of the spicy cinnamon mixture makes my mouth water even today.
I have fond memories of an early morning ritual, being woken up by the smell of cardamom. I would creep into the kitchen to find my granddad, my partner in crime, making masala chai (tea). With his finger on his grinning lips indicating to me not to wake anyone, he would pour two cups of chai, one for him and one for me. I would know just where to find the hidden tin of treasured biscuits. We would dunk them in our chai and devour them whilst listening to his stories of India.
2.2 lbs all purpose flour
1 lb sugar
1 lb butter
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp saffron
7 oz milk
Mix the butter and milk with the baking soda, cinnamon and saffron. Add the flour and sugar and mix well.
Roll the mixture into little dough-balls and flatten into approximately 2 inch pieces.
Preheat oven to 350. Bake on a greased baking sheet for 25 minutes until golden brown.
Cool and devour, ideally with a cup of masala chai!
Marion Graham’s Acts of Love and Oatmeal
“I bake to show people I care,” says avid baker Marion Graham. “I love that my grandkids cannot stay away from my cookies and will sneak a handful when I am not around.
“I don’t like artificial ingredients, so I bake cookies from scratch and try to make them healthier. I like to add my own special ingredients.
“People are very special. I love people and I love making their tummies feel yummy.”
Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
½ cup butter
¾ cup brown sugar
½ cup Sugar in the Raw
2 eggs (I use egg whites)
1 tsp vanilla
1 ½ cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp allspice
Pinch of nutmeg
2½ – 3 cups oatmeal
1 cup raisins
Mix softened butter and sugars until creamy, add eggs and vanilla and mix well.
Gradually mix in dry ingredients. Then add oatmeal and raisins.
Drop by tablespoons on ungreased baking sheet or parchment paper. Bake at 300 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes.
–contributed by Partners in Care
Grandmother’s Family Cookies
My fondest memory of my grandmother and me is working laboriously and industriously to make 13 different types of cookies, all traditional, while sharing stories of family from long ago. Even when my grandmother was unable to make them herself, my cousins and aunts chipped in. Now in her memory we gather before Christmas to make them. Her recipe is handed down and translated from German.
Buttergebäck German Butter Cookies
makes 3-plus dozen
6 cups flour
11⁄2 tbsp ground cinnamon or lemon zest (optional)
1⁄4 tsp salt
1 lb butter, softened
21⁄4 cups sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
Sift together flour, salt and cinnamon into a large bowl.
Beat butter with electric mixer while gradually adding 2 cups of sugar until light and fluffy.
Beat in eggs, one at a time, then alternately beat in the dry ingredients, about a third at a time. Dough will be very soft.
Divide the dough into five equal parts, flatten, wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out dough about 1/4 inch thick on a lightly floured surface. (Placing a piece of wax paper over the dough while rolling will help prevent sticking without adding too much extra flour to the dough.)
Cut with cookie cutters and transfer to greased cookie sheets. Scraps may be gathered, rechilled and rolled one additional time.
Brush cookies with lightly beaten egg, sprinkle with a little of the remaining sugar. Bake in batches until golden, about 20 minutes.
Insider tip: Transfer cookies to brown paper bags to soak up excess butter.
May to December
Mom’s Mayhaw Thumbprint Cookies
The tradition started when I was very young. Piling in the boat, we would travel down the Neches River in search of Mayhaw trees that thrived with their feet in the water. It was very exciting to spot the first tree and to gather the small fruit from the ground, water and limbs that we could reach. This gathering usually included a picnic lunch and a swim if the water was not too crowded with other boats.
Then came the all-day making of the jelly. Mom did most of the work, but we kept her company in our very small kitchen. The door was opened wide to keep the temperature down in the room. The jelly was covered in wax for a good seal and packed away in boxes. Those that were not consumed by us were handed out for the occasional gift to visitors and neighbors.
At Christmas time, without fail, my mother made butter cookies to give to our family friends. Half were given a pecan on top. In the others we made a thumb print and filled it with Mayhaw jelly. Besides looking forward to eating them ourselves, the highlight was delivering them with mom and dad, along with a link of country smoked sausage, to those we kept close during the holidays.
Enjoy their buttery goodness.
1 lb butter, softened
2 cups sugar
Cream together and gradually add in
4 cups flour
Form into three logs (about 2 inches in diameter) and wrap in wax paper. Refrigerate. Can be made ahead and baked as needed.
Let rolls slightly soften on counter about 1 hour before slicing. Slice ¼-inch cookies and place on ungreased cookie sheet or parchment paper. Make a thumbprint in half and place 1 teaspoon of Mayhaw jelly (red currant or crab apple work well, too). On the others, place a half pecan.
Bake at 300 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden — not brown.
The Burnt Cookie Exchange
It doesn’t have to be perfect to be good
At 41, I was a cookie exchange virgin. Sure, I had been invited, but I never went because who has time to bake all those extra cookies?
Until this morning.
“Why aren’t you coming to my cookie exchange?” my friend Pilar demanded. “Do you know how much work I’ve put into planning it?”
“I appreciate the invitation. I really do,” I replied. “But we are so busy this weekend that I can’t imagine finding time to bake all those cookies.”
“Find time? What kind of sorry excuse is that? Go to the store, buy some of that slice and bake stuff, and put it in the oven. Who doesn’t have time for that?”
Oooooooh, I thought all the cookies had to be made from scratch. I thought I had to flip through a dozen cookbooks looking for the perfect recipe. I thought I needed to make a list of obscure ingredients and spend a day going from store to store hoping to find macadamia nut oil or Madagascar honey. Pilar, however, was telling me to please come to her cookie exchange. I could cheat if I had to, but my attendance was more important than baking the perfect cookie.
So last night, I spent just a few minutes scooping unbaked, pre-made cookie dough from a plastic tub, plopping it onto a baking stone and putting it in the oven. Cheating was painless.
I was in my mid-20s, newly married to my now ex-husband and working a full-time job that kept me very busy during the holiday season when I decided to create a Christmas like no other. Inspired by a photo spread in Martha Stewart Living, I chose a gold and silver seashell theme, and I sprayed conch shells, starfish, scallop shells, oyster shells and sand dollars with gold and silver paint. The huge conchs became a centerpiece and mantle piece. The smaller shells became tree ornaments.
I bought seashell stencils and made my own cards and coordinating wrapping paper. I used some of the shells to create candleholders for gifts to friends. I also made and jarred Kahlua presented with the candleholders in gold or silver gift bags stenciled with the trademark shells.
I bought seashell cookie cutters, made gingerbread and sugar cookies from scratch and bought gold and silver pastry glitter from a specialty confectioner’s shop. I had planned to use it to decorate my cookies. On Christmas morning at 4am, however, I burnt a batch of cookies. I was exhausted having stayed up all night creating a perfect Christmas, and now it was ruined by burnt cookies.
As I sobbed, my husband came into the kitchen, looked at me, shook his head, and said, “I don’t know why you are so upset. It’s not like anyone else cares.”
I accused him of having no Christmas spirit.
On Christmas Day my in-laws admired the homemade ornaments, the tree, the dinner table and our mantle. They enjoyed the home-cooked meal. But within a day or two, they didn’t remember the vivid detail I had created. By that same token, they didn’t remember that the last batch of cookies was a little darker than the rest.
That Christmas was my turning point. Slowly, I was coming to realize that being called a perfectionist was not a compliment and that being a control freak was not an asset. People would rather be in the company of someone who screws up and admits it than someone who is freaking out over all the little things that will so soon be forgotten.
Now, when I hear a person say with pride, I’m such the perfectionist, I marvel. Why not confess I’m such an alcoholic with the same cockiness? Honestly, if you were a kleptomaniac or a compulsive liar and you recognized the problem, you would seek help. How is being a control freak any different?
I’m glad that I got over my perfectionist tendencies before my daughter was born. She has the benefit of being raised by a mother who expects to make mistakes and recognizes that the vast, vast, vast majority of mistakes are like cookies left in the oven one minute too long. No one notices, no one cares and no negative consequences follow — except in the mind of the person who forgot to set the timer. I’m sure it’s an easier life for her than being the daughter of a control freak.
Still, I sometimes forget that my imperfect company is more important than cookies made from scratch, and I’m thankful to the Pilars of the world for reminding me.
Janosky Family Chruscicki
Although my mother worked full-time, plus took care of the house and the family, she still made sure that we kept up with our Polish traditions. In this way my father, who had emigrated from Poland after World War II, could feel more at home in his new country.
Every December we would make pierogies and chruscicki, Polish bow tie cookies. First, my mother would mix up the dough, and then my father would roll out the dough into thin sheets. Next, my sister and I would cut the dough into two-inch squares. In the center of each square, we cut a slot. One corner of the cookie was pulled through the slot to create the bow tie. My mother then fried the cookies and added powdered sugar to the finished product.
We proudly offered our creations to friends and family who came to visit during the holidays.
½ pint sour cream
1 dozen egg yolks
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
5 cups flour
1 tsp vanilla or almond flavoring
Add salt to eggs and beat for 10 minutes. Add sugar and flavoring and blend. Fold in flour. Transfer to a well-floured board and knead until the dough blisters. Cut the dough in half for easier handling and roll thin. Cut into four-inch strips. Cut a slit in the center of each strip. Pull one end of the strip through the slit to make the bowtie. Fry in deep hot fat until dough is lightly browned. Drain on paper. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.
Chocolate Chip Cookies for Partners in Care
Peggy Marrow married not knowing how to cook. She learned on her own and found a special gift in baking. She makes beautiful cakes and decorates them nicely.
This recipe comes from Bob Woodruff of NPR, to whom she listened for years. He claimed this was the one recipe that his mother, Frannie, made better than anyone else. That testimony was good enough for Peggy. This is the only chocolate chip recipe she has ever used.
Their excellence is well known, as she often bakes them as part of her volunteer work with Partners in Care.
Frannie’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 sticks butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups cake flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 cups chocolate chips
Cream sugars and butter together until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, then add vanilla.
Mix dry ingredients together in another bowl and mix in gradually until well integrated, but do not overmix.
Fold in chocolate chips with a rubber spatula. Drop 1-tablespoon-sized mounds onto a nonstick cookie sheet.
Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes.
–as made by Peggy Marrow
My Mother’s Fudge and Sand Tarts
When I was a child, the heavenly aromas of baking cookies and simmering chocolate filled our Pennsylvania home at Christmas time. My mother, Sue Barr, made an array of holiday sweets, but her specialty was smooth, velvety chocolate fudge, a candy some believe originated in Baltimore due to a candy maker’s mishap.
Determined to raise a connoisseur, my mother walked me through her fudge-making process. “Remember,” she’d say, “temperature and timing are key — and don’t touch that fudge when you should leave it alone.” She urged me to practice on my own.
It looked so easy. So I rose to the challenge and made fudge — bad fudge, many times over: grainy fudge, brittle fudge and fudge we served over ice cream. But finally I got it right, so Mom started me on learning to make sand tarts.
The family adored my mother’s sand tarts, those translucent, buttery cookies that snap like crystal at first bite, then crumble to delicious sand in your mouth. Though Mom’s recipe is simple, the rolling, cutting, painting and sprinkling sand tarts require that they are best made with a helper.
I started out as sugar sprinkler and worked my way up. Now, 50 years later, I’m thrilled when Chesapeake friends ask for my mother’s Christmas recipes. She’d be so proud.
Sue’s Famous Fudge
1-1/3 cups whole milk
3 squares (3 oz) unsweetened baking chocolate
4 cups granulated sugar
4 tbsp light corn syrup
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 tsp vanilla
Butter a 9-by-9-inch baking pan.
Scald the milk on the stove until just ready to boil, then add the sugar, chocolate and corn syrup all at once. Stir constantly until the sugar is dissolved.
Cover the pot and boil slowly for 3 minutes to allow the steam to wash down any sugar crystals from the sides of the pot. Remove the lid from the pot, and wipe away any remaining sugar crystals with a clean, damp cloth. This helps avoid a grainy texture.
Boil the mixture, stirring, just until the sugar is dissolved.
Lower the heat and return the mixture to a boil. Cook slowly, untouched, to the soft ball stage, about 236 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove fudge immediately from the heat and, without stirring, add the butter and vanilla.
Allow the fudge to cool to 110 degrees, then transfer to a mixing bowl and beat at high speed just until the candy begins to lose its glossy sheen.
Quickly scrape the hot fudge into the buttered pan and allow it to cool.
Cut fudge into squares and pack them in an airtight tin. Refrigerate.
Sand Tart Cookies
½ cup unsalted butter (no substitution)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg, slightly beaten
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
Beat butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until creamy. Add sugar and egg; beat on medium speed until light and fluffy.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt into a separate bowl. Add flour mixture to butter mixture; beat on low speed until combined.
Shape the dough into small disks. Refrigerate the disks in an airtight container for 8 hours or overnight.
¼ cup granulated sugar
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
almonds, blanched, peeled and cut in half (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove one disk of dough from the refrigerator, and roll paper-thin on a lightly floured surface. Cut with small cookie cutters, rerolling scraps once. Place cookies 2 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets.
Brush each cookie with egg wash made from 1 egg white beaten with 1 tsp water.
Mix together the cinnamon and ¼ cup sugar, and sprinkle over each cookie. Decorate each with an almond half, if desired.
Bake in preheated oven just until cookies are tinged with brown. Cool on pans 2 minutes. Remove cookies to wire racks and cool completely. Repeat process with each remaining dough disk.
Store cookies in airtight tins.